White House dinner celebrates Ramadan, religious freedom

President Barack Obama. Photo by Shahid Abdul-Karim

By Shahid Abdul-Karim

@Shahid_Akarim on Twitter

(Photo by D. Shahid Abdul Karim)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Muslims share in the blessings of religious liberty. And in recognizing the Islamic faith as a staple in the fabric of American life, President Barack Obama invites Muslim Americans to the White House to attend the annual iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan.

More than 100 guests attended iftar, Mon., July 14, 2014, including elected officials, ambassadors and officials from the Republic of Iraq, the African Union Mission, Israel, along with members of the Community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed and others.

Connecticut’s first Muslim mayor, Saud Anwar of South Windsor, also attended. Iftar literally means “breaking of the fast” and it’s the meal Muslims enjoy after sunset every day during the month of Ramadan.

The annual dinner has become a White House tradition since the 1990s, under then-President Clinton and continued by President George W. Bush, according to the White House website. The dinner, the sixth for President Obama, was held in the State Dining Room.

In his remarks, the President said Ramadan is a time to reflect and to remember discipline and devotion as the essence of a life of faith.

”And for all of us, whatever our faiths, Ramadan is a reminder of just how much we share. The values of peace and charity, the importance of family and community — these are universal values,” Mr. Obama said.

“The command to love one another, to uphold justice, and to care for the least among us — these are common threads in our faith traditions.” he said.

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) is one of two Muslim congressmen – both of whom are affiliated with the community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed attended the iftar. Cong. Carson said the President respects Muslims.

“I applaud the President’s recognition of Muslim Americans and join him in calling for understanding and respect among people of all faiths,” said Carson, 39, who was elected to Congress first in 2008.

“For me, like most Muslims, Ramadan has always been a special time to reflect upon God’s many Blessings,” he said. “It is a month for renewing our relationship with God and working to improve the lives of those around us.”

Fitrah Muhmmad of the Nation’s Mosque in Washington, D.C., said African American Muslims helped to open the doors for other Muslims, to make it acceptable to practice the faith in America.

“As an African American, being invited to the White House for the iftar would have been much more meaningful if those before me were acknowledged for their sacrifice and contributions to establishing Islam as a major American experience,” Muhammad said. She too is a member of the Community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed.

“History is important, and our contributions should not be marginalized or obscured,” she said. “We made it possible for all to call themselves Muslims in America.”

Amid the increased turmoil in the Middle East, President Obama made comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“In too many corners of the world, we see violence and terror,” he said. “The pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart-wrenching. People here in the United States care deeply about what is happening there.

“And I know there’s strong views as well as differences about how we should move forward, which is part of American democracy. We welcome that debate — that makes us stronger,” he said.

Some attendees at Monday night’s event were angry about a magazine’s report that the National Security Agency and the FBI scanned the emails of five prominent Muslim Americans under a secret surveillance program aimed at foreign terrorists and other national security threats.

The Obama Administration has not confirmed the report in The Intercept. But the president said that “no one should ever be targeted or disparaged because of their faith.”

Other Connecticut Muslims acknowledged Obama’s iftar as an opportunity for better communication of the Islamic faith in the state.

Editor of the Chicago based Muslim Journal national weekly newspaper, Ayesha K. Mustafaa, noted the importance of Obama’s gesture in upholding the tradition of having an annual iftar dinner for Muslims.

“It is important to note that the United States is multicultural and multireligious. President Obama and other presidents have acknowledged this American tenet with an iftar dinner annually during the holy month of Ramadan,” said Mustafaa.

Muslim Journal is the longest-running weekly Muslim newspaper in America, nearing its 40th year of publication; it is in affiliation with the community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed.

“As one of the religions of the Abrahamic Faith — Jews, Christians and Muslims — the American public is reminded with these iftar dinners of how mainstream Muslims are in the United States,” Mustafaa said.

Al Hedaya Islamic Center of Newton cofounder and Director Eman Beshtawii said the recognition the iftar offers for Muslim communities is valuable.

“Being invited to the White House for the iftar not only means recognition of Muslims by the president, but also opens channels of communication,” said Beshtawii. Mustafaa and Beshtawii did not attend the event.

“It provides the President at the grassroots levels, through the leadership of Muslim communities, what the concerns are and what the feedback is from United States Muslims on any relevant issue of interest to the President,” Beshtawii said.

(Shahid Abdul-Karim is Community Engagement Editor at the New Haven Registrar; call him at 203-789-5614.)


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